State to spend $4.6M retraining Montana coal workers for new jobs

Beleaguered by a slowdown in coal production, the town of Colstrip will receive more than $4.6 million in funding to help retrain workers and move the community to a more diverse economy.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced the funding on Tuesday and said it will help Colstrip, along with other eastern Montana communities, overcome the economic impacts related to the slowdown in coal production.

“This funding is absolutely critical to ensuring responsible, Montana-made solutions that will bolster job creation potential and harness good-paying jobs for hard-working Montanans and their families in the region,” Bullock said.

The funding will help 1,700 workers in 21 counties train for new jobs.

In response to the decline in coal mining and the long-term impacts it’s likely to have on the region, the Montana Department of Labor & Industry applied for a POWER grant through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Dislocated Worker program to provide support to Colstrip.

Jim Atchison, executive director of the SE MT Development, based in Colstrip, said his organization will develop a strategy to take the existing workforce and transition it to a diversified economy.

“There are some significant impacts on the horizon,” said Atchison. “When these impacts hit coal country, every community in Montana will feel the pinch, but these grant funds awarded to the Montana Department of Labor & Industry will certainly help ease these pending impacts.”

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry plans to open a Job Service office in Colstrip and expand the Registered Apprenticeship program to recruit more businesses.

It also plans to hire a tribal workforce coordinator to work with dislocated workers on the Northern Cheyenne, Crow, and Fort Peck reservations.